Patricia Highsmith Her diaries and notebooks, 1941-1995

Patricia Highsmith, 1921-1995

Book - 2021

"Publishing for the centenary of her birth, Patricia Highsmith's diaries "offer the most complete picture ever published" of the canonical author (New York Times). Relegated during her lifetime to the pulpy genre of mystery, Patricia Highsmith has emerged since her death in 1995 as one of "our greatest modernist writers" (Gore Vidal). Presented for the first time, this one-volume assemblage of her diaries and notebooks-posthumously discovered behind Highsmith's... linens and culled from more than 8,000 pages by her devoted editor, Anna von Planta-traces the mesmerizing double-life of an artist who "[worked] like mad to be something." Beginning in 1941 during her junior year at Barnard, the diaries exhibit the intoxicating "atmosphere of nameless dread" (Boston Globe) that permeates classics such as Strangers on a Train and the Ripley series. In her skewering of McCarthy-era America, her prickly disparagement of contemporary art, her fixation on love and writing, and ever-percolating prejudices, the famously secretive Highsmith reveals the roots of her psychological angst and acuity. In one of the most compulsively readable literary diaries to publish in generations, at last we see how Patricia Highsmith became Patricia Highsmith"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Highsmith, Patricia
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New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company [2021]
First edition
Physical Description
xv, 999 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Patricia Highsmith, 1921-1995 (author)
  • 1921-1940: The Early Years
  • 1941-1950: Early Life in New York, and Different Ways of Writing
  • 1951-1962: Living Between the United States and Europe
  • 1963-1966: England, or The Attempt to Settle Down
  • 1967-1980: Return to France
  • 1981-1995: Twilight Years in Switzerland
  • Afterword by Joan Schenkar: Pat Highsmith's After-School Education: The International Daisy Chain
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Time Line of Highsmith's Life and Works
  • Sample of Highsmith's Foreign- Language Notes
  • Note on the Journals' Composition.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

A quarter century after the death of novelist Highsmith (1921--1995), fans are given a fascinating and unprecedented look into the "playground for imagination." Discovered posthumously and edited into one impressive volume, these entries--pulled from Highsmith's private diaries and notebooks--chronologically span her early years in the U.S. to her death in Switzerland, offering, as von Planta writes, "a holistic understanding... of an author who concealed the personal sources of her material for her entire life." In the early 1940s, Highsmith (The Price of Salt; Strangers on a Train) reflects on her insatiability, particularly in the realms of reading and sex, "the most profound influence on me--manifesting itself in repressions and negatives." Throughout, readers get a glimpse into the machinations behind her hit thrillers, such as 1955's The Talented Mr. Ripley--"I often had the feeling that Ripley was writing"--as well as her lamentations around being an artist: "The unfortunate truth is that art sometimes thrives on unhappiness." She ruminates on her struggles with her sexuality ("To be creative is... the only mitigating factor, for being homosexual"), while her final diary entry in 1995 faces mortality head-on: "One goes about life as usual, then death arrives maybe suddenly.... In this, death's more like life, unpredictable." Devotees and historians alike will linger over every morsel. (Nov.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

"My secrets--the secrets that everyone has--are here, in black and white," Patricia Highsmith wrote in one of her diaries. More than 50 years of the novelist's diaries and notebooks have been assembled in this volume, painstakingly annotated for context by Highsmith's longtime editor Von Planta. Beginning with her 20th birthday, the diaries speak to Highsmith's certainty of her own potential. With a presentient awareness of her audience, Highsmith's candid entries reflect a determined writer and an uneasy heart as they outline her work, reading, and social life. More than an impression of worldly affairs, Highsmith's notebooks dovetail her public identities as the mystery writer whose Strangers on a Train became a Hitchcock film, and the cult-classic author of the lesbian love story The Price of Salt. VERDICT An exceptional effort to make primary source material on one of America's best known mystery authors more accessible. Sure to be a resource for future scholars, these annotated diaries will also appeal to fans of Eileen Myles's Chelsea Girls and Diane di Prima's Recollections of my Life as a Woman, offering a frank and detailed account of a woman and writer coming of age.--Asa Drake, Marion County P.L., FL

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Disclosures from a meticulously documented life. Notoriously private, novelist Highsmith (1921-1995) refused to authorize a biography and frustrated interviewers with terse answers, insisting on being known only through her novels. Yet after she died, her literary executor discovered 56 volumes of journals and diaries--some 8,000 handwritten pages--recording intimate details of her life, germs of her fiction, and views on art, culture, and the world. Because the volumes had been revised, edited, and sometimes annotated, it was clear that Highsmith intended them for eventual publication. Von Planta, who became Highsmith's book editor in 1984, has selected a "mere fraction" of the material, beginning with the diaries from 1941, when Highsmith was a junior at Barnard. Organized chronologically, the volume includes informative introductions for each section; a helpful foreword by von Planta; an afterword by Highsmith's biographer, Joan Shenkar, focusing on the influential women who featured in Highsmith's sensual education; a biographical timeline; a bibliography and filmography; and a sampling of passages that Highsmith wrote in Spanish, German, French, and Italian. Depression, manic phases, anger, and self-doubt recur: "How to be miserable--compare yourself to other people," she wrote in 1979, when she already was a successful author. Love affairs, many defined by "powerful attraction and powerful aversion," could be elating, then disappointing: "It is very tiring to be in love." Highsmith was often beset by worry about money, fear of losing creative inspiration, restlessness, and loneliness. She had a fractious relationship with her mother, hurt by her mother's "jealousy, malice, ambiguity, vacillation [and] mixture of feelings toward me." Humanity could dismay her: Describing her as "rough around the edges," von Planta notes that Highsmith's racist, antisemitic, and misanthropic remarks intensified as she aged. Although von Planta cautions that the volume is not an autobiography, it is surely the closest that readers will come to one. An admirably edited volume for scholars and voracious fans. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.